I want to affirm the fundamental truth given to us by the feminist movement, that the personal is political. I want to go on to describe how "activist circles" are similar to any other circles in our culture of alienation. Then I want to open up the subject of sexual abuse and how our hyper-individualism selects for and makes possible violence and sexual abuse - in our circles. Finally, I will offer a vision of social revolution and a community of brothers and sisters.
We, who call ourselves radicals and anarchists, live and are formed by our cultural environment. We are children of the European enlightenment, late capitalism, and modernism - all. How could it be otherwise? We organize ourselves like other institutions, where personal listening and recognition of each other are not socially selected for. We are driven by doing projects, accomplishing goals. Interested listening to each other as individuals is not valued so much as objective planning in pursuit of the radical "bottom line." Our meetings seem to me more like government than anarchism. If something outside the purview of the radical corporation, or something personal, is interjected into business, then the speaker gets their alotted time and then is passed over without response - very much like shouting into a cave.
Then there are us anarchists. As I have said, we too, are children of our culture. Anarchists, in my experience, are pretty much the same people as the young careerist professionals with whom I work in the therapy business. Both groups tend to be young, energetic, highly intelligent, socially skilled, mobile, individualistic, and good looking. I admire them. I am the grandfather in both groups, also a product of this culture. I mean to go on about this a bit more, because I want to take the possible judgement and blame out of this description.
We can only listen to stuff which is within the purview and pertinent to our
cultural experience - our lives. All groups, families, churches, radical circles
are psychological environments - little worlds in themselves. This notion is
expressed in the German word, Weltanschauung, or world-view. When we look at
societies as a whole, they are of two kinds. Ferdinand Tonnies has called these
"society," like ours, and "community," not like ours. Edward
Hall(1) has described community as "a high-context culture [where] people
are deeply involved with one another" The Amish are such a culture. There
may be a high value placed on conformity, which is not a problem for Amish who
don't see it as a
problem. It would be an impossible obstacle to anarchists and I don't think it is necessary to community.
Hall would call our culture a low-context culture which "emphasize[s] literacy and rationality[is] highly bureaucratized[in which] information is restrictedto verbal communication. People are individualistic and somewhat alienated[and] fragmented rather than integrated. [T]hey use manipulation to achieve their goals and are prone to be manipulated. Cultures emerge not through conscious designbut because of the ways in which deep cultural undercurrents [emphasis mine] structure peoples' lives" (pp 18-19 Op Cit).
The reason anarchists, like all us moderns, don't listen to calls to change our way of life is because, even hearing such a call is a scandal to bourgeois ears. We can't respond because we do not "get it." Let us listen to this. Our individualistic "society," the society of Hobbes and Locke, of impersonality and doing - that society allows for violence and sexual abuse, necessarily.
Let us turn to violence and sexual abuse. In the context of market "society," the last few institutions for care, recognition, and love for a person as an end in itself are in marriage, the couple, or in the family. The rest of the world is market-driven, the Hobbesian world of each against all. Instrumental relationships rule, where every relationship is a means to an end. In such a society, "the contradictions are sealed off from each other" (Hall). There is a tendency to seal the couple off from the instrumental, outside world - "it's us two against a heartless world." There is also a sealing off of the nuclear family from the public realm. "Our family business stays within these walls!" In the absence of community and a meaningful public realm, families are extremely privatized, and secret.
It was in the context of the secret family that I was sexually abused, by a woman; my mother. No one could know her secret and she denied it, using mothering as a cover. I say this in the interest of "coming out," to heal myself; but also to make a political point. I need to say it, and you need to hear it. A taboo in society, and perhaps especially in "activist circles," is to say that a woman could be a perpetrator of sexual abuse. That's a taboo. I, like some other male survivors of this crime, have been too ashamed to ever mention it. Especially was this fact taboo in radical circles - I thought. Of course, the process of keeping the most fundamental hurt of my life suppressed, kept me from "coming out" in so many ways.
Then at last, I found a book that opened up this subject and I felt that somebody rcognized my hurt. The author's name is Charlotte Davis Kasl, a radical and a feminist. Not only did I feel recognized, I also felt defended - against the sometimes subtle "blame the victim" messages that I got when I began to mention its effects. Charlotte mentions in her article* that there were "[a] few others [women], [that] said we should not be talking about female perpetrators because it lets men'off the hook' and they will use the information to obscure the extent of male-perpetrated sexual abuse" (p 259 Cf., citation).Charlotte says that "To speak out [about the tabooed subject of female perpetrators] is to challenge the rules under which our society is organized.If knowledge does touch the conscious level, a person will usually maintain silence for fear of being ridiculed and misunderstood" (p 260). I'll let Charlotte speak to others about this. She is relatively objective and human in her article. I am sensitive, untrusting, and angry about this subject, because it happened to me.
In the dysfunctional family, the brothers and sisters are in chronic competition for very scarce and limited resource, both materially and psychologically. Yet this undermining of each other, and the acting-out or acting-in roles played out in their adult lives, does two things. It lets the perpetrator (usually a male) off the hook, and more important it keeps the brothers and sisters from supporting and healing each other. Brothers and sisters are natural allies - our reproduction of the abusive family in our circles by non-communication, etc. keeps us bogged down and as David Meyers says ("Violence and Abuse Issues in Activist Circles," page three), keeps us from working "more effectively on the other issues that are important to us." So we see that the avoidance of mutual recognition and listening are defenses against our true selves, and an avoidance of our true paths. Can we talk?
Another radical avoidance of our social revolution is harder to identify. Gustav Landauer based himself on Proudhon when he said, "social revolution bears no resemblance at all to political revolution; that although it cannot come alive and remain living without a good deal of [political activism] - social revolution is nevertheless a peaceful structure, an organizing of new spirit for new spirit and nothing else."(2) Radical avoidance uses often true and necessary activism. I am planning to get active in fighting managed care, before it turns into managed everything. However, when we busy ourselves with fighting for political revolution, in the spirit of revolution and, dare I say, the image of revolution, we avoid the revolution which "can only bear fruit when we are seized by the spirit, not of revolution, but of regeneration."(3) "The only choice we are presented with is the choice between the Spectacle of domination and the Spectacle of opposition."(4)
When the spirit of regeneration comes to our community, there will be no support, albeit passive and structural, for sexual abuse. Human community coming from our modern lives and experience, whether we call it Socialist or Anarchist or Mutualist, is the true goal of Revolution. It will reflect the organic culture of history and Nature, where we are at home. It will be safe for children. Community will support modern individualism and learning. "Modern man associates himself with the ancient world, not in order to reflect it like a mirror, but to capture its spirit and apply it in a modern way."(5)
I want to talk with anyone interested in the tenor of these ideas. I will give
or send Charlotte's article, "Female Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse: A Feminist
View," and Buber's section on Gustav Landauer, to anyone who wants them.
It was Landauer who said that ultimately, "the State is a condition, a
certain relationship between human beings." What do you say to beginning
the destruction of the State, as it operates in our own activist circles?
-Ron Griswold 773.764.8829
Also from the same issue: Facing Reality: Abuse in Activist Circles
*The Sexually Abused Male: Prevalence, Impact, and Treatment. Ed. Mic Hunter, Lexington Books, Macmillian, Inc. 1990.
866 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022
(1). Edward Hall, Beyond Culture, Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday 1976.
(2). p 52, Paths in Utopia, Martin Buber. Buber quotes Landauer. (As far as I know, this is out of print.)
(3). p 51, Paths in Utopia.
(4). p 13, Spectacular Times, London.
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